The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door: A Coming-Out Guide on a Journey Toward Unconditional Self-Love

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door: A Coming-Out Guide on a Journey Toward Unconditional Self-Love

by Chelsea Griffo Lmsw


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452592138
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 04/15/2014
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.36(d)

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The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door

A Coming-Out Guide on a Journey toward Unconditional Self-Love

By Chelsea Griffo

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2014 Chelsea Griffo, LMSW
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4525-9213-8


Coming Out to Myself

If I had to pick an age, I guess you could say that I officially came out to myself at the age of twenty-one. I kissed a girl for the first time in a pub in Rome, Italy, on a college study-abroad trip, while my best friend was in the bathroom ... and it was awesome. This would not be quite true, though, because the first time I kissed a girl happened long before that. It would be more accurate to say that this was my first girl kiss without any negative social consequences. After my first couple of innocent attempts to kiss girls, it took a decade for me to overcome the shame that was ingrained in my psyche by the outside world and to find the courage to give my natural instincts a chance again.

I grew up in a small Texas town in a Catholic family. There were no gay people in my life at all, and I never learned anything about them from anyone in my family. As a little kid, I was a pretty stereotypical tomboy. I loved climbing trees, playing soccer with the boys at recess, and I could not stand Barbie dolls. Despite the fact that I wanted to learn the piano more than anything, play soccer, or learn to tap dance, my dad put me on a softball team in second grade, for which I became very grateful later in life. It never really occurred to me that I was different from any other kid, and my parents generally encouraged me to express myself the way I wanted.

In a perfect world, without judgment or homophobia, I'm sure that my sexuality would have developed naturally, without me having to "discover" anything about myself. The first memory I have of becoming aware of my same-sex attraction was in fifth grade. I was ten years old, and I was playing basketball with my friend Allison in the gym at school.

She was a very special friend to me, and that day, I suddenly felt the impulse to kiss her on the cheek. It wasn't anything I had planned out; it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world in that moment. To my surprise, Allison got angry at me and wiped her hand across her cheek. I stood there, confused and a little hurt. I could not understand why a kiss would make her so mad ... but I never kissed her again.

The next school year, I had new friends and had pretty much forgotten about kissing Allison. As an eleven-year-old, I still wasn't too conscious of the changes beginning to happen in my body. It certainly never occurred to me to slap a label on the new emotions I was feeling or that I had anything to hide. One day, I was in the hallway with my friend Julie, when that same impulsive urge came over me. Again, without any premeditated thought, but simply acting on the innocent emotions I felt toward her, I kissed Julie on the cheek. Julie's reaction was different than Allison's, though. Allison had been angry, but Julie just stared at me with a look of disgust on her face.

As the next few days, weeks, and months began to unfold, I started to notice people staring at me in the hallways at school. Sometimes I would catch them whispering to each other and looking at me, quickly turning away when we made eye contact. Julie told people that I was a lesbian. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew it must have been bad because of the way everyone was treating me. That was when it began to sink in that Allison and Julie were not the only ones who thought it was bad for a girl to kiss another girl. Apparently, everyone thought that. One of the lessons that stuck with me the most during my junior high and high school education was that wanting to kiss or hold hands with a girl was not only wrong but worthy of making you a complete social outcast. I even had a math teacher who made a comment about two girls he had seen holding hands in the hallway. "It's disgusting," he said.

All of the extremely negative feedback and bullying I received from kissing Julie was easily enough to send me deep into the closet for the next decade. I continued to be taught time and again by teachers, friends, church people, and family members that being gay was not okay. It was almost impossible to count how many times you would hear gay slurs in just one day of school. Kids were constantly using gay as a substitute word for any negative adjective or calling someone a fag just because they stepped outside of their gender norm for a second.

Denial combined with fear is a very powerful thing, and I put my heart and soul into convincing myself that I was not gay. Once in sixth grade, I even slapped myself on the school bus when the thought of kissing another girl popped into my head and turned me on. I became extremely active in school clubs and band, and I was always buried in homework. I was too busy to even think about dating anyone, and that was exactly how I wanted it. Also, it's pretty easy to avoid thinking about dating anyway, when your only option is to date someone of the opposite sex and you are not the least bit interested. Now and then, I was able to convince myself that I had a crush on a boy, who was usually just a close friend that I felt safe around. Either that or he was already taken, and I would not have to worry about him wanting to date me.

I always thought that I did a pretty good job of hiding the fact that I was gay, but some of the fashion trends I went through from sixth to twelfth grade may have been a clue to some of my friends and more open-minded family members. From fifth grade through seventh, I wore a vest to school literally every single day. (Vests were "in" back in the '90s, okay!) When I was about to enter seventh grade, a new rule said that we had to tuck in our shirts, and I was so worried that they would make me tuck in my vests. I didn't want to look like a nerd! To my extreme relief, my mom went with me to talk to my school guidance counselor, who assured me that I would not have to tuck in my vests. How my sweet mother was able to keep a straight face (no pun intended) during that conversation with the counselor, I will never know.

My mom was always good about letting me pick out my own clothes, in order to build my self-esteem, but she did try to influence my fashion decisions from time to time. Once she took me to a super-trendy store, back when bell bottoms were just coming back into style. She told me I could pick out anything I wanted in the entire store, and she would buy it for me. The pressure was on, but I couldn't find a single thing I liked. Finally, I grabbed a lime-green Mickey Mouse T-shirt off a rack. It was obviously too big, but it was the only thing in the whole store that I was even remotely interested in. Reluctant and a little disappointed, my mom brought the shirt to the checkout counter.

Following the vest phase was the polo shirt and khaki shorts phase, my baseball jersey phase, and the overalls phase. One time, my friends Erich and Greg actually took me to Starbucks and flat out asked me if I was a lesbian, to which I defensively replied, "No! Of course not! Why would you think that?" They never answered my question.

Although I stayed in denial for about ten years, every five years or so, I would have an intense identity crisis well up inside me. Oh God, I think I might be gay! No, I can't be gay. I'm not "like that!" The thought of what that could mean for my life was just too scary to handle at the time. Fear has an amazing way of convincing your mind to deny what you know to be true in your heart, and it amazes me how creative I would get to believe I was straight for a little while longer. The problem was, each time I had one of these identity crises, it became more and more difficult to manipulate my mind back into a state of relieved denial. As a nineteen-year-old college freshman, I had another one of those anxiety-filled heart-to-heart talks with my soul, and I actually wrote a prayer in my journal, asking God to help me not be gay. By the end of the entry, I had somehow come to the conclusion again that I was straight, but that was the last time I was ever able to do it. Here is my journal entry from that day:

2/17/2004 Dear God,

I know that you've always known that this has bothered me since the fifth grade, but I need to talk about it anyway. I'm not quite sure why, but I've been so afraid that I could be a lesbian. It's just that I've never really liked boys the way everyone else likes them. I never thought of all the movie star guys as being "hot" or felt all "wooo" about any of it. I felt like I'd really have a crush on a guy, but if he ever tried to get closer to me, the feeling would go away whenever he was around. I've been thinking about it so much, and I've realized that it's very hard for me to trust guys, men, whatever, and I have always just felt safe and comfortable and loved when I'm with girls. I don't really think that would make me a lesbian, but I feel like I just want my girlfriends to hold me in their arms because I know they care about me. I've never really met a guy who I could trust with my emotions in that way, who loves me so completely and totally and would never want anyone but me. Is there a man like this for me? I would be the happiest person on the face of the Earth if this dream could come true for me. Well, I guess I really do want a guy, huh? I'm just scared, but I don't need to be scared if you are the one to bring us together. I know you have a plan for me and that I just need to trust in you. I know you'll never let me down. I just wish I knew what the plan was, but I guess if you give away all the surprises, it wouldn't be as fun and wonderful when they unexpectedly happen. Thanks for making me feel better.

Love, Chelsea

It's interesting how the ignorant opinions of other people can subconsciously become your own. However, it was the last good excuse I could think of to convince myself that I was just afraid to be in a relationship with a guy: "I just hadn't found the right one yet." Interestingly enough, it was shortly after this time that I met my first and only boyfriend, David, and our relationship lasted for about eight months. It was a very confusing experience for me. David was not a repulsive person at all, but the thought of kissing him always made me feel a little nauseated. I remember thinking, This can't be normal, but I'd just tell myself that it was nerves and would pass. It wasn't nerves. Luckily for me, David was a pretty conservative guy when it came to physical stuff, and I never even had to tell him that I didn't want to have sex with him. We had a lot of fun together, but when it finally became clear to me that we were just friends, I drove to his house and broke up with him. That night, I went out to celebrate my break-up with a bunch of my social-work classmates!

Now I will fast-forward to my junior year of college and the infamous Rome study-abroad trip, which was pretty much the drop of water that burst open my gay floodgates. I had a good friend named Kelly on the trip, who was out and proud at the time. She was the only lesbian friend I had back then, and I wanted so badly to confide to her some of the "possibly gay thoughts" that were swirling in my head. I'm pretty sure she knew I was gay as soon as I said, "Hey! You know what would be fun? We should make out sometime. Just for fun, you know? I've always been curious about what it would be like to kiss a girl." Yeah, I wasn't fooling anyone. Eventually, we ended up in an Irish pub in Rome, drank a beer or two, and started holding hands under the table. As soon as my friend Nichole got up to go to the bathroom, our conversation went something like this:

Kelly: "Hey, Chelsea, have you ever kissed a girl before?"

Me: "No."

Kelly: "Do you want to?"

Me: "Yes!"

Kelly: "Do you want me to kiss you?"

Me: "Okay!"

(Kiss happens)

Kelly: "How was that?"

Me: "Awesome."

Kelly: "Better than kissing a guy, huh?"

Me: "Way better!"

Nichole comes out of the bathroom, and end scene.

Yes, Kelly was a good friend to me. I'm sorry to say that I was pretty distant and awkward around her for a while after that, though. It was just part of my process, but taking that first step of admitting to myself that I really was attracted to women was a scary one. For a while, I told myself that I was bisexual, because it was easier to think that I might still have a chance at a "normal" and "acceptable" relationship in the eyes of society. I am by no means implying that bisexuality is a phase on the way to accepting your gayness. In fact, bisexuality is probably much more common that heterosexuality or homosexuality, and I will not deny that I have definitely felt physical attractions toward men at times in my life. However, it stops at that level for me. Once I try to think of anything physical happening with a guy, the attraction mysteriously vanishes.

It was a long time before I was actually able to say the words "I'm a lesbian" out loud to myself. Even then, I was alone in my living room, and I practically had to force the words out of my mouth. When I finally did it, I started crying, and all I could see ahead of me was a dark, unknown future full of fear and rejection. All I could think was that I would never have a family, I would never have kids, my family was going to hate me, and I was going to lose all of my friends. Fortunately for me, not one of these things was or is true. I still do not have a family or children of my own, but if I decide that this is what I want someday, there will be nothing to stop me from living any life I dream of living. The future may look a little different for me now than I imagined it as a kid, but I have since learned that being gay has nothing to do with whether or not I can live a happy and fulfilling life.

Getting to that point wasn't easy. It took several years of soul-searching and really getting to know myself before I truly became comfortable in my own skin. I always knew logically that there was nothing wrong with being gay and that I shouldn't have to hide it from people, but I didn't feel that way in my gut for a long time. Once I was finally able to download that unconditional self-love from head to my heart, though, it was the most liberating epiphany of my life. The key to achieving this is just to "fake it till you make it." Keep thinking the same positive thoughts over and over again until they become a belief, and your new belief will download into your heart when you least expect it. One day, you will have your own story to share about how you came out to yourself. When that day comes, you will be able to look back on your fears and smile, because they will no longer have power over you.


The Many Gifts of Being Gay

Being gay is not a curse or an affliction, but one of the greatest gifts we could ever have been given. By choosing to come out and accept yourself for who you really are, you are taking your first steps on a journey toward transforming your life forever. It will change from one of fear, anxiety, shame, or doubt to a life of unconditional, unbounded self-love and joy.

Gayness is like Miracle-Gro for your soul. It causes you to grow stronger and more quickly than you ever would have otherwise. Being gay will teach you so many amazing things, some of which you may already have experienced in your own life. It will teach you to become more accepting, open-minded, and non-judgmental. You will also become a critical thinker, while developing a solid understanding of what your beliefs are and why you believe them, unlike many people, who primarily believe something because a person of influence told them to believe it (religious leaders, parents, teachers, role models, etc.)

One of the most important lessons you will learn is how to truly love yourself and become independent of the opinions of other people. Just as crucial as mastering self-love is learning to genuinely forgive and love when other people have said or done hurtful things to you. If you have not realized it already, you will come to discover that you do not forgive to heal other people; you forgive to heal yourself. Anger and resentment will destroy you, and forgiveness is the only way to set yourself free.


Excerpted from The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo. Copyright © 2014 Chelsea Griffo, LMSW. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword, xi,
Preface, xv,
Introduction: The Reason for This Guide, xix,
Chapter 1: Coming Out to Myself, 1,
Chapter 2: The Many Gifts of Being Gay, 11,
Chapter 3: Common Fears and Expectations, 13,
Chapter 4: Gender Identity and Expression, 20,
Chapter 5: There Is No Wrong Way to Come Out, 22,
Chapter 6: Unconditional Self-Love, 30,
Chapter 7: Forgiveness, 38,
Chapter 8: The Only Tools You Need, 42,
Chapter 9: Coming Out to Yourself, 45,
Chapter 10: Internalized Homophobia, 52,
Chapter 11: Coming Out to Your Family, 61,
Chapter 12: Coming Out to My Family, 71,
Chapter 13: Religion and Spirituality, 81,
Chapter 14: My Spiritual Evolution, 84,
Chapter 15: Dealing with Bullying, 92,
Chapter 16: "That's So Gay." Educating People and Standing Up for Yourself., 97,
Chapter 17: Let's Talk about Sex, Gayby, 103,
Chapter 18: A Little Dating Advice, 109,
Chapter 19: Advice from the Other Side of Things, 114,
Conclusion, 123,
Appendix A: Proposal to Start a GLBT and Straight Student Support Group at the Student Catholic Center, 127,
Appendix B: "The Heterosexual Questionnaire" by Martin Rochlin, 131,
Resources, 133,
Notes, 137,
Acknowledgments, 143,
About the Author, 145,

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The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door: A Coming-Out Guide on a Journey toward Unconditional Self-Love 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book really explained how difficult it was for my girls to come out to me.  It also explained so many other questions that I had and my girls had.  I think the whole world would benefit from reading this book.!
Toby_Johnson More than 1 year ago
Chelsea Griffo is a licensed master social worker and LGBTQ community activist and, in particular, a support group facilitator for LGBTQ youth. This easy-to-read little book is addressed to such youth with wise and compassion instruction in taking the next—necessary—step in the unfolding of their lives: coming out. With all the apparent success of gay political activity in the past few years, it seems like the self-discovery that one is gay would be easy, even welcome. But, of course, for each young person, if only because it means he or she will live a different life from that of parents and siblings, this realization is scary and difficult, especially to speak outloud. So Griffo’s non-demanding advice can be very useful in taking that step. The author’s voice comes across like a good friend or older sister who knows what she’s taking about and just wants to make it a little easier. My favorite quote is from the Conclusion: “When it comes to coming out, the good always outweighs the bad, no matter what. Being gay will cause you to grow into a far greater person that you ever thought possible, and that inner strength and love for yourself and others will carry you through the rest of your enlightened and love-filled future." What a good attitude!